Magic Mirror on the Wall: Leadership and Self-Awareness

  Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Let me say a hearty "thank you" to those who read my December post and expressed their opinions about the nature of this blog for 2017. Based on your feedback, I will write within two major categories this year: common leadership challenges and activities/exercises for leaders. I'll be posting once per month, hopefully in the third week of each month. Thank you for reading!

When we begin coaching a senior executive, our first activity set includes various assessments of that individual. We identify the executive's personality type, communication preferences, most commonly used leadership style, core values, and primary influencers. We also ask supervisors, peers, and subordinates for their evaluation of the executive's strengths and weaknesses. We begin there because it's difficult, if not impossible, to help a leader grow unless we are aware of who they are - as a person and a leader.

Some executives have already engaged in these activities, and see this as an opportunity to explore if/how they've shifted over time. Far too many, however, have never participated in a process of reflection that would help them become self-aware, and that's a tragic mistake for three reasons:

  1. Leaders who aren't self-aware are forced to mimic someone else. It is one of my core beliefs that anyone can learn to lead, but I am equally convinced they will never lead effectively unless they lead from their own core. We all have strengths & weaknesses, things we value & things we don't, natural skills/abilities & some things we just don't do well. All of these things shape our leadership, and how we grow as a leader over time. Trying to lead like someone else is akin to asking a professional golfer to quarterback a Super Bowl team. No doubt he has fantastic athletic ability, but his natural talent and experiential learning are all geared to a completely different sport and he's likely to look like a fraud on the football field. Same is true with leaders, and looking like a fraud will quickly erase our influence.
  2. Leaders who aren't self-aware deprive themselves of opportunities to improve. Leading is a tough business, and most leaders make mistakes. But most followers can forgive those mistakes and press forward if their leaders take time to reflect on those mistakes and get better. Self-awareness isn't a task, it's a process. We begin our coaching there because we are teaching our clients to work the process every day. To reflect on who they are and whether/how that came across in their daily interactions, decisions, etc. As leaders, it is our responsibility to grow, and we can't do that when we aren't self-aware.
  3. Leaders who aren't self-aware come across as arrogant, self-absorbed, and threatened. Reference the Queen in Snow White, who should be enough to remind us why that's bad for any leader.  

If you need some assistance in identifying the proper resources to begin a self-reflection process, feel free to contact me at and I'll share the tools we use in our work.